It's been a long, difficult season for New York Red Bulls supporters. When key players haven't been missing on Gold Cup duty or away for international friendlies, they've been injured or unavailable. Rafael Márquez, the club's second highest paid player, has suited up just nine times in 21 matches and will miss this evening's tilt against Colorado Rapids. Add to the mix a marathon road trip during the aforementioned Gold Cup, a calamitous series of defensive and goalkeeping blunders that have resulted in points being thrown away, and an über-cautious manager who refuses to deviate from formula or employ substitutions. What you get is a recipe for high levels of fan frustration.
Then came the Red Bulls ignominious exit from the US Open Cup. Hans Backe fielded what can only charitably be called a skeleton squad, failed to either show up in Chicago or send his top lieutenant, and suffered the consequences - a 4-0 defeat that raised eyebrows around MLS and got fans' blood boiling. What stung even more for Red Bulls supporters was the fact that, with a win, New York would have faced Richmond Kickers at Red Bull Arena, with a place in the US Open Cup final on the line. They will probably never have an easier path to a cup final.In response to the club's meek capitulation in a cup competition that was at least theoretically in their grasp, the three main Red Bulls supporters groups - Empire Supporters Club, Garden State Supporters and Viking Army Supporters Club - have planned a silent protest for the first half of this Saturday's game against FC Dallas at Red Bull Arena. Tim Hall of the Empire Supporters Club explains the protest today in his regular column at First Touch Online.
It's safe to say that not every Red Bulls fan is in agreement with the approach being taken. Why, some ask, take away vocal support of players as a result of decisions that seem to have been made at the front office or managerial level? Others, including a sizable contingent of fans who have never accepted the Red Bull name change, have used the opportunity to tee off on their Austrian energy drink overlords. Among this group there are probably a few who were already itching for an excuse.
In practical terms, will the protest have any effect? It should get the attention of the higher ups at Red Bull Arena, not to mention casual fans. Hopefully someone will go to the trouble of explaining to the players why the normally raucous South Ward will be silent for the first half on Saturday. The timing is somewhat unfortunate. FC Dallas is one of the league's better attacking teams and no easy nut to crack even when the crowd is behind you. Moreover the Red Bulls are desperate for points after throwing so many away over the past several months. If the Red Bulls walk off the pitch at half time down a goal or two we could see some questions asked, and not just of Hans Backe and his men.